AB 1826 – Mandatory Organics Recycling

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What is Assembly Bill 1826 Chesbro (Chapter 727, Statutes of 2014) (AB 1826) and why is it important? AB 1826 is a new law that requires local jurisdictions across the state to implement an organic waste recycling program to divert organic waste generated by businesses and multi-family properties.  To understand the history leading up to its passing, the particulars, and its ramifications, read below.

Over 25 years ago, California passed the nation’s landmark solid waste law, AB 939 or the Integrated Waste Management Act, which sought to decrease the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) that we were sending to our landfills, and placed the responsibility for this diversion on California’s cities and counties.  Waste diversion strategies included recycling, composting and source reduction (creating less waste to begin with). Statewide diversion rates at that time were estimated to be about 10%.  The law required this to be increased to 25% diversion by 1995, and up to 50% diversion by 2000.

In 2011,  Governor Jerry Brown raised the bar even higher by passing AB 341, which set a 75% recycling goal for California by 2020 — the most ambitious in the nation.  The bill required businesses and multi-family dwellings that created more than 4 cubic yards per week (cy/wk) of MSW to have a recycling plan in place.  Twenty percent of our commercial sector is responsible for ¾ of California’s solid waste.  The bill did not specify how local jurisdictions were to achieve the reduction goal, but it did identify some strategies they might consider.

One of the primary strategies of AB 341 was to move organics out of the landfill. This is a goal that Solana Center has been actively working on for decades!  And this is what AB 1826 is finally addressing — that organic waste diversion needs state level involvement.  So, while AB 341 suggested keeping organics out of the landfill would be a good idea, AB 1826 now mandates it.

What is organic waste and why do we need to keep it out of the landfill?
Organic waste as defined in the law includes the following material: food waste, green waste, landscape and pruning waste, nonhazardous wood waste, and food-soiled paper waste that is mixed in with food waste. Why is this so important?  Organic waste in the landfill breaks down via a different bio-chemical pathway than if it were composted.  It breaks down without air, or anaerobically, and in the process, creates methane gas, which has an Environmental Protection Agency Global Warming Potential (GWP) rating of 21 compared to carbon dioxide’s rating of 1.  Meaning that the greenhouse gases emitted are 21 times more potent when organic material decomposes in the landfill. Also, methane is absorbed into the atmosphere more quickly than CO2, magnifying the immediate detrimental impact on the environment.  Most Californians understand the concept of recycling and participate in the process. However, about a third of the waste we create and send to the landfills could readily be composted.  In doing so, we could reduce greenhouse gas production, diminish landfill impacts, creating a wonderful soil amendment in support of our state’s agriculture, and create jobs!

The Devil’s in the Details
Beginning on April 1, 2016, generators of more than 8 cubic yards (CY) per week of organics would be required to compost the material, or make arrangements for it to be properly recycled.

Beginning on January 1, 2017, generators of more than 4 cubic yards (CY) per week of organics would be required to compost the material, or make arrangements for it to be properly recycled.

Starting in 2019, AB 1826 thresholds revert to the AB 341 mandatory commercial recycling 4 cubic yards (CY) per week of MSW (municipal solid waste).

If we have not met specified state waste reduction goals of 50% waste reduction from 2014’s level of disposal, the requirements could be further reduced to 2 cubic yards (CY) per week of MSW, on or after January 1, 2020.

Who Will Be Affected

(8 CY/week) affects most grocery stores.

(4 CY/week)   affects most large sit-down restaurants (greater than 60 employees) plus above.

(2 CY/week)   affects most medium sit-down restaurants (greater than 30 employees) plus above.

(1 CY/week)   affects most fast food restaurants (greater than 22 employees) plus above.

Business and school districts will all be affected as well, depending upon how much organic waste they generate.

Challenges and Incentives
The challenges and incentives will be addressed in a future blog, but in a nutshell, if not to the landfills, where is all that organic waste going to go?  We’ll also discuss ADC (alternative daily cover) and why what you put in your green waste can is not being composted.  California, and more specifically, San Diego, does not currently have the infrastructure in place to deal with all the organic waste we produce.  Within San Diego County, there is only a handful of large scale composting facilities.  The largest of these, the Miramar Landfill Greenery takes food waste on a very limited scale, and from select customers only.  Not only could they not handle all of our County’s organic waste, but think of the carbon footprint that would be created trying to truck in waste from the far-reaching corners of our very large county!

Various attempts are being made to address this issue.  Again, Solana Center was on the forefront of organics waste recycling; we were working to establish compost facilities back in the 1990’s!  Assembly Bill 551 looks to create Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.  AB 551 allows cities and counties to establish “urban agriculture incentive zones” by offering reduced property taxes to landowners who use vacant parcels exclusively for agriculture.  And new studies have identified the powerful carbon sequestration capability of applied compost, which could lead to carbon off-set credits as incentives.  Both of these could help direct the pathways to solutions. Stay tuned!

For additional questions or assistance with AB 1826 compliance, please contact Jacqueline Prairie – Director, Programs & Development at jacqueline@solanacenter.org or (760) 436-7986 x211.

References:
http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/recycle/commercial/organics/

http://californiacompostcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/15-04_CCC_Newsletter_with_Inserts_web.pdf

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